Markle's Mill
D. O. Seamon greeting card              

Markle’s Mill was one of the first industries established in what later became Vigo County. Built in 1816 by Maj. Abraham Markle, The mill was for many years the means by which a farmer could convert his crops to marketable products. For one hundred twenty-one years the mill served Vigo County farmers and produced much of the flour, meal, and feed for the area. During the first part of the twentieth century, Markle’s Mill became a historical landmark and a source of great local pride.

Abraham Markle was born in Ulster County, New York on October 26, 1770. He spent the early part of his life in the Hudson Valley which was at that time a battleground for the American Revolution.2 Abraham continued the family tradition of milling by building and operating a mill on Cascadilla in the present city of Ithaca, New York.3 While in New York, Markle became a Mason and bore a certificate declaring him "An Honest Brother". Except for a land purchase in Onondaga County near Syracuse, New York in 1774, there are no other known records of Markle in the United States before the War of 1812.4

Markle h,ome in Ithaca, NY
Markle House at 114 Linn Street, Ithaca, NY ca 1957 (since demolished)

In 1806 Abraham Markle became part of a migration to Upper Canada (presently Ontario). During the six years that he lived there, Markle became a citizen and was appointed a member of the Provincial Parliament where he quickly became a controversial figure. Markle favored annexation of Canada by the United States and was indicted for treason several times but was acquitted each time by juries of his neighbors.5 In his book, Canada 1760-1900, the Canadian historian Bourinot states:

"In the western part of the province of Upper Canada there was, however, an American element composed of people who had bean brought into this country by liberal grants of land made to settlers and who were not animated by high sentiments of the loyalists of 1783 and succeeding years. These people, for some years were misled by political demagogues like Wilcox and Markle, both of whom deserted the enemy soon after the outbreak of the war."6

Another historian, Kingsford, states in the History of Canada:

"There was a disloyal party in the house, the leadership of which were Wilcocks and Marcle, both of whom in a few months desearted to the United States. They did all that was possible to encourage gloomy forebodings, and create the desire of conciliation to the invaders. Through there influence the house, by a majority of two, refused to vote the suspension of the habeas corpus"7


When it became apparent that he could no longer safely remain in Canada, Markle moved across the Niagara River with his sons William and Abraham and fellow assemblyman John Wilcocks and enlisted in the United States Army.8

Markle served in the United States Army as a captain until April 14, 1814 when he was promoted to major. He was cited for meritorious conduct in the battle at Fort Erie where he succeeded to the command when Lieut. Col. John Wilcocks was killed. Markle led his New York regiment against Canada and was captured. He claimed rights as a prisoner of war but was tried for treason, found guilty, and sentenced to be shot before sunrise the next morning. Probably with some help from fellow Masons. Markle escaped and returned to the United States.10

After his conviction and escape, Markle’s land holdings in Canada, which totaled fifteen hundred acres, were confiscated. While still in the army, Markle had traveled on horseback to the Indiana Territory. He found the area near Fort Harrison on the Wabash River, which featured thick forests and a fertile prairie to his liking and returned to the east to petition Congress for compensation for the loss of his Canadian land in the form of a land grant in Indiana.11 The governor of New York, James Brown, supported Maj. Markle’s request in a letter to Secretary of War, James Monroe.

Albany, 9 March 1815

Sirs:
Major Markle has solicited me to make known to you the situation in which he is now placed after campaign through which he has served with credit. His attachment to the cause of the United States induced him to join our army, leaving in Canada an estate which has been confiscated in consequence. This loss renders him dependent upon his present pay as an officer, and he must rely for remuneration upon the liberality of the American government.
Major Markle was a member of parliament of Upper Canada and has probably sacrificed his political as well as pecuniary interest. It seems but just that some equivalent should be offered him in this country.
Very respectfully, sir

your obedient servant

James Brown

Honorable James Monroe
Secretary of War


On March 5, 1916 Congress passed the Canadian Volunteer Act which granted eight hundred acres of land in Indiana to those who had suffered the loss of Canadian land holdings

Many of the soldiers benefited by the Canadian Volunteer Act had no desire to move to Indiana and were quite willing to assign their claims to Maj. Markle in return for immediate cash payments. With warrants from these men Markle gathered his family and a few friends and began the trip to Indiana.13

They crossed the mountains in wagons to Olean on the Allegheny River. Here they constructed three flatboats for the trip down the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers to the mouth of the Wabash where they began poling upstream until they reached Fort Harrison. The Markles were one of the first families to settle in the area and were greeted by a fifteen gun salute from soldiers in parade formation with full dress uniforms.14 Soon after arriving, Markle filed entries at the Land Office in the county
seat at Vincennes, this area being part of Knox County at the time. Markle received a total of three thousand two hundred acres of land.15

At a land sale on the thirteenth and fourteenth of September of 1816, Joseph Kitchel bought eleven tracts of land in present day Terre Haute. Kitchel had no money to pay for these lots so he assigned the right to purchase these lots to a group of men who called themselves the Terre Haute Land Company. These men were Abraham Markle, Cuthbert and Thomas Bullit, Jonathon Lindly, and Hyacinth La Salle. The land company contracted Kitchel to be their agent to lay out and sell lots for a new town. In a short time Terre Haute became a country village with shops, stores, and new houses.16

On the plat for the Town of Terre Haute, one block was left as a town square and bore a picture of a courthouse. Having already hinted at their intention, the land company sent Kitchel to the new state capital at Corydon to lobby for a new county called Sullivan with Terre Haute as the county seat. The new county was formed, but Terre Haute lost the county seat to Carlisle. At the next session of the legislature, John Owens, Kitchel’s successor, persuaded the legislators to form a new county called Vigo with Terre Haute designated as the county seat. Markle and his associates now had a seat of justice for their growing town.17

After becoming the first land owner in the area and founding a new town. Maj. Markle settled down to the business of providing the area with its first industry. Most of the area inhabitants were farmers who produced large quantities of corn and wheat to sell to markets in the lower Mississippi Valley. Corn on the ear could only be shipped during the winter due to the warmth and humidity of the southern climate. Corn whiskey and flour were products that could be shipped down the river during any month of the year. Since Markle was by profession a miller, he recognized the potential of a gristmill and distillery operating near a large source of grain with cheap transportation to markets available on the Wabash River.18

Maj. Markle was following the Terre Haute to Lafayette road (now Fruitridge Ave.) north toward Otter Creek when he decided on the location for his mill.19 The location that he chose was a stream that carried enough water to operate a mill almost all year. On the eastern edge of the Wabash River Valley where the creek came down from the hills the banks of Otter Creek were high enough and close enough together that a dam one hundred yards long could form a pool about six feet deep.

One important characteristic of the mill site was the solid rock bottom. John Dickson and Isaac Lambert had built another mill on Honey Creek south of Terre Haute on sandy soil. Within a few years the mill was totally destroyed by spring floods.20 By 1825 there was a second sill built on Honey Creek and another on Sugar Creek near West Terre Haute.21 Most traces of these mills have been washed away by spring floods while the foundation and dam of Markle’s Mill have remained intact to this day.

Perhaps the most important factors that contributed to the success of Markle’s Mill were economic. Other sites in western Indiana such a Cataract Falls on the Eel River and a site at Bridgeton had greater flows of water and solid rock foundations, but neither of these sites was close to a population center or a major river. Markle’s Mill was located only five miles from the town of Terre Haute and four miles from the Wabash River. The proximity of the mill site to a river and a population center allowed Markle’s Mill to operate profitably long after other mills had ceased operations.22

After selling some of his lend and mortgaging a large section of his holding to obtain the necessary funds, Maj. Markle contracted Ezra Jones, a local flat boat builder to design and build a gristmill, sawmill, and distillery.23 The original structure built in 1817 was thirty-six feet square and three stories high.24 The wood for the mill came from trees cut in the woods behind the mill. The ridgepole was a six inch octagonal poplar beam and the rafters were four by five inch black walnut.25 The dam was made of large wooden timbers anchored in stone. A small paddle wheel, which was later replaced with a metal turbine, provided the power to run the gristmill and sawmill. Two years after completion of the mill, the county commissioners granted Markle a license to sell foreign merchandise and he opened a general store to further serve his growing list of customers.26

Markle’s Mill quickly became a center of activity for area farmers. During the harvest season farmers frequently had to wait at the mill for one or two days before their grain could be ground. Markle kept accurate records of all transactions in his account books. Beginning with an entry dated December 4, 1818 the books give an indication of the prices in the early nineteenth century. Some of the prices of the day were:

Beef 6 cents/lb
Turkeys 37.5 cents ea.
Corn 25 cents/bu.
Eggs l2.5 cents/doz.
Whisky 50 cents/gal. wholesale

$1.00/gal. retail
Tea $2.50/lb
Sugar 25 cents/lb.
bran 25 cents/50 lb.
Wages 50 cents - 75 cents/day

These prices show the great expense of imported goods such as sugar and tea as compared to goods produced locally. Some of the accounts have a humorous touch. An example of this is the account of Paul Smith:


Monday 2 gal. whisky $2.00
Tuesday 1 gal. whisky $1.00
Wednesday 2 gal. whisky $2.00
Thursday 3 qts. fine whisky $1.50
Friday Boards and nails for coffin $1.75


The account books of Markle’s Mill have been preserved to this day.27

Markle was frequently in the public eye in Vigo County. He was noted for his fiery character and chivalric behavior. He was described by a neighbor who said, "His energy of character was great and he bore down all ordinary opposition by slight effort.’

Markle served on the first pettit jury of Vigo County and was active in politics.
29 At the same time, he was frequently the defendant in assault and battery cases. In one assault and battery case Markle pleaded justification. He was found guilty and fined one cent.30
Lucius H. Scott, who visited the Markle home said of his host, "I thought him the most magnificent example of manhood I had ever seen. He stood head and shoulders above the rest."
31

After living for ten years in Vigo County. Maj. Markle owned many acres of land. Most of it was mortgaged to provide capital for expanding business interests. On March 26, 1826 Markle died suddenly at his home. Since he had failed to make his will the handling of Markle’s estate was complicated, and his heirs suffered the foreclosure of a mortgage on three hundred twenty acres between the present day streets of Poplar, Locust, Seventh and Thirteenth. This land which had cost Markle eight hundred dollars was sold to Fredrick Rapp who later sold it to Chauncy Rose for three thousand three hundred dollars. It was from this purchase of land that the Rose fortune grew. The burial service of Maj. Abraham Markle was in charge of Masonic lodge No. 19, the oldest in the city.32 For his ten years spent in the county, Markle is remembered today as one of the areas finest early settlers.

Markle home, mill foundation, and dam
Markle home, mill foundation, and dam (D. O. Seamon greeting card)

After the death of Maj. Markle, the mill on Otter Creek continued in the hands of the Markle family. Fredrick Markle, Abraham’s son, ran the will until his death in 1866.33 In 1848 Fredrick built an eighteen room mansion across the road from the mill. The walls of the structure were made of bricks burned on the site and were four feet thick at the foundation and one foot thick at the top of the second story. The style was typically colonial with four fireplaces on each of three floors. This impressive structure still stands and is known as one of the finest old houses built in Vigo County.34

Markle Mansion
Markle Home (Andrews photo)

Markle Office
Office in Markle home showing interior brick wall
(Andrews photo)


Parlor in Markle home
Parlor in Markle home with one of eight fireplaces (Andrews photo)

The last of the Markles who ran the mill were Fredrick’s sons, William and Fredrick. They sold the mill to H. S. Creal and bought it beck in 1888. During this time a roller process was installed to grind flour. With this and other improvements the mill maintained a reputation for doing first class work.35

During the Civil War Markle’s Mill played an important role in the effort to save the Union as well as the effort to free the slaves. The mill was used for storage of ammunition and was the headquarters of the home guard of which Fredrick Markle served as commanding officer. Markle was a friend of Lincoln’s and corresponded with him frequently.36 The Markle home was also an important stopover on the underground railroad. There were rumors of secret passageways and hidden rooms that were only opened at night. Most of the fleeing slaves were probably hidden in caves in the hills behind the mill. Pieces of clothing and cooking utensils were found in some of the caves.37 According to Sallie Cox, the current owner of the home, there are no traces of secret rooms or passageways.63 There is a black settlement east of the mill that began during the Civil War, It is not clear whether these people were fugitive slaves or local blacks who were helping others on their way to Canada.38

Despite the shortage of manpower and the extra activities the mill never missed a days production during the Civil War.39

After the war in 1864 the mill was completely dismantled. With the timbers stacked in the yard Fredrick Markle and his son William rebuilt much of the original stone foundation and laid new stones for an addition to the east. The original timbers were used to construct about four sevenths of the new mill. Except for small additions the exterior of the mill remained unchanged until it burned in 1938.40

After the Markle family gave up the milling business, the mill on Otter Creek was owned by John Creal for a time and later by T.J. Welch. While Welch owned the mill a railroad bought a right of way across part of the mill property Welch sold the land with the agreement that all trains would stop for a flag near the mill. Although a siding and loading dock was never built, it seems probable that this was a consideration in the decision to sell the land.41

In 1910 C.D. Hansel leased the mill which was called Forest Park Mill at the time to see if it would be a good investment. The mill still used an old grinding stone to grind corn but had a modern roller process to grind flour. The equipment was good and grain was still available but the mill had produced little profit in the previous several years. After a year Hansel decided that the old mill had many profitable years left and bought the mill.42

With a fast growing nation using more flour and meal every year, large factories were built to meet the demand. These large industries supplied most of the grain products to major markets and made it difficult for a small volume mill in Vigo County to compete. Terre Haute at this time was a fast growing community of more then fifty thousand. Hansel sought to take advantage of the local demand and began marketing O,C. Patent Flour and O.C. Patent meal (O.C. stands for Otter Creek). There were some housewives in the city who claimed that O.C. was not good enough to make bread with. Many of these women used Oakley Flour not knowing that Mr. Oakley bought the flour for his grocery stores from Hansel. Although he did not find full acceptance from all housewives, Hansel helped put the bread on the table for many area families and firmly established a local market .43

Oakley flour sack
Oakley flour sack on display at Bridgeton Mill
(Andrews photo)


After almost one hundred years of operation Markle’s Mill still depended on water power. This was very inexpensive but not always dependable. In dry weather the mill sometime ceased operations for a day until the mill pond refilled.44 Another limitation was the water turbines limited power of about twenty-eight horsepower. This was enough to drive either the corn mill or the roller mill but not both. Hansel was forced to divide the operation between the two mills grinding wheat on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; and corn on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.45

Hansel’s first improvement to the mill was a concrete dam to replace the wooden one, which needed frequent maintenance.46 To overcome inefficiency in operation Hansel experimented with several forms of power to drive the mill. In 1919 an oil engine was installed but was not satisfactory and removed. In 1920 an electric motor was installed to drive the corn mill while water still powered the roller mill. With this arrangement corn and wheat could be ground simultaneously and the grinding of corn was not restricted when water was low.47


Mill dam at Markles's
                      Mill
Markle's Mill Dam and foundation (Andrews photo)

During the thirties the engineer at the mill was Rex Johnson. Johnson had a great love for steam engines having worked with steam threshing machines and steam locomotives. He convinced Hansel that a steam engine would provide power for the mill at a minimum fuel cost.48 In 1935 a steam engine was installed that frequently used corn cobs for fuel costing only a dollar a day to operate. Under this arrangement the steam engine powered the roller mill, the corn mill was converted back to water power and the electric motor ran a hammer mill which was installed to grind feed.49


Mr. Hansel was very proud of the mill and its background. He carefully preserved letters and documents relating to the mill and began a small historical library in the office of the mill. One of the items that Hansel treasured was a Conestoga wagon. This wagon was sought by the Chicago World’s Fair for a display but never left the mill when Hansel turned down an offer of one hundred fifty dollars for temporary use of the wagon.50 The wagon is now displayed in the Early Wheels Museum in Terre Haute. 

Conestoga Wagon

Conestoga Wagon from CD Hansel Collection (Andrews photo)
 
[Update added in 2001: The Early Wheels Museum closed after the death of owner Tony Hulman in 1976. The Conestoga wagon is now part of the collection of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. It has not been displayed there.] Other items were rope beds, oil burning lamps, a first edition of McGuffey's First Reader and a letter from Andrew Jackson.51 An item of particular interest was a bookcase from the estate of Chauncey Rose. Hansel planned to fill the bookcase with books and other items connected with Rose.52 During this time pride in the mill was growing in the area. A columnist in a local paper said of the mill:

 

"Hoosiers, particularly those in Vigo County are eagerly awaiting the day when Markle’s Mill will be considered in the same class with Mt. Vernon, Monticello, the home of Betsy Ross, and other famous buildings so dear to the hearts of Americans. That day is not far off."53


In 1924 the Indiana Historica1 Society announced that they would present one mill in Indiana with the title of "Oldest Mill in Indiana." Mill owners who claimed the title were invited to present arguments to the old mills committee. In addition to age, beauty and historical value were also to be considered.54 Hansel had frequently claimed that Markle’s Mill was the oldest mill in continuos operation west of the Alleghenies.55 With the help of Herbert Biggs, a local historian, Hansel presented a strong case for Markle’s Mill. Other mills claiming the title were Beck’s Mill built in 1808, and the Work Mill on Fourteen Mile Creek built in1814.56 Although these other mills were older, Markle’s Mill was awarded the title on the basis of its continuous operation.57

By 1938 with the nation beginning to recover from the depression Markle’s Mill was grinding grain twenty-four hours a day.58 On the evening of September 20th two mill employees, Samuel Green and Richard Gossman, smelled smoke and went to investigate. They found the upper story of the mill a mass of flames. All available fire equipment was rushed to the scene but the old timbers burned rapidly, and the mill was completely destroyed. In addition to the mill structure the fire destroyed one house, six hundred bushels of grain, sixteen tons of feed and most of the items in Hansel’s historical library.59 The mill’s destruction was a great loss to the residents of Vigo County. Hansel’s daughter states that her father was never the same after the fire which destroyed most of his life’s work.60

Markle's Mill after fire

Mill foundation after fire (Bertha Johnson photo)


Post Card  
                                                                                                                           Postcard
       

After the fire the mill property was bought by Anton Hulman Jr.. In 1967 the mill site, which included the mill foundation and dam, was made a public park under the proprietorship of the Otter Creek Township trustees. The spot today is a favorite picnic spot for area residents.61 Hansel continued in his profession as  miller for a few years at the Bridgeton Mill.

Bridgeton Mill
Bridgeton Bridge and Mill (Andrews photo)



Markle’s Mill ground an estimated four million bushels of grain during its one hundred twenty-one years of operation.62 It was able to continue operations over parts of two centuries because it adapted to the demand. The mill that burned in 1938 was technically far advanced from the mill built in 1817. Most of the owners of the mill were forward looking men who improved the mill operations whenever possible. Markle’s Mill will never be thought of in the same class as Mt. Vernon, as one local writer had hoped, but its contributions to the Terre Haute area will not be forgotten.

Notes

1. Bradsly, H. C., History of Vigo County, Chicago, 1891, pp. 157—158.

2. Abraham Markle 1720-1826 (pamphlet) p.1.

3. Markle, A. H, Terre Haute Tribune-Star, May 3, 1931.

4. Abraham Markle, p. 1.

5. Ibid.

6. Markle, A. R., Terre Haute Tribune, June 1, 1916.

7. Ibid.

8. Bradsley, p.165.

9. Abraham Markle, p. 2.

10. Markle, A. H., "Markle’s Mill 1816—1923, 107 Years" (manuscript).

11. Bradsly, p. 141.

12. Markle, A. R., Terre Haute Tribune , June 1., 1916.

13. Abraham Markle, p. 2.

14, Bradsly, p. 141.

15. Abraham Markle. p.2~

i6. Ibid.

17. Ibid., pp. 2—3.

18. Ibid., p. 3.

19. Bradsly, p. 166.

20. Ibid.. p. 159.

21. Ibid, pp. 291, 298.

22. Terre Haute Tribune-Star, May 3, 1931.

23. Oakey, Charles Cochran, Greater Terre Haute and Vigo County, Lewis, 1908, p. 55.

24. Johnson, Rex, Markle’s Mill (personal notes, Johnson was engineer at Markles Mill).

25. Terre Haute Post , March 25, 1925.

26. Bradsly, p.297.

27. National Miller, August 1925.

28. Bradsly, p. 165.

29. Oakly, p. 83.

30. Ibid., p. 85.

31. Ibid., p. 103.

32. Abraham Markle. p. 3.

33. Bradsly, p. e51.

34. Terre Haute Post.

35. Bradsly, p. 851.

36. Terre Haute Post1 March 25, 1925.

37. Caldwell, Terre Haute Star, July 8, 1920.

38. Andrews, Mildred Hansel (daughter of C.D. Hansel) interview on March 31, 1973.

39. Caldwell.

40. Vigo County Journal, April 22, 1925.

41. Andrews.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid.

44. Ibid.

45. "Oldest Hoosier Water Mill Is Still in Operation" Indiana Farmer’s Guide, July 12, 1924.

46. Terre Haute Tribune Star, May 3, 1931.

47. Johnson, Rex.

48. Johnson, Bertha(Mrs. Rex), interview on May 10, 1973.

49. Johnson, Rex.

50, Andrews.

51, Caldwell.

52. Volkers, Clyde E., (from unknown newspaper).

53. Caldwell.

54. unknown newspaper, 1924.

55. Andrews.

56. Indianapolis News, December 7,1924.

57. Indianapolis Star, September 24, 1935.

58. Andrews.

59. Terre Haute Tribune, September 21, 1938.

60. Andrews.

61. Johnson, Bertha.

62. Caldwell, John, Terre Haute Star, July 8, 1930

63. Cox, Sallie (current owner of Markle home) conversation of July 24, 2015

BIBLIOGRAPHY


Abraham Markle 1770-1826, (pamphlet).

Andrews, Mildred Hansel, Interview on March 31. 1973.

Bradsly, H. C., History of Vigo County, Chicago. 1891.

Caldwell, John, Terre Haute Star. July 8. 1930.

Cox, Sallie, Conversation on July 24, 2015

Indianapolis News, December 7, 1924.

Indianapolis Sunday Star,September 29, 1935..

Johnson, Bertha, interview on May 10, 1973.

Johnson, Rex, "Markle’s Mill" (personal notes).

Markle, A.R., "Markle’s Mill 1816—1923, 107 years" (manuscript).

Markle, A..R., Terre Haute Tribune Star, June 1, 1916.

Markle, A.R., Terre Haute Tribune Star, May 3, 1931.

National Miller, August 1925.

Oakey, Charles Cochran, Greeter Terre Haute and Vigo County, Lewis 1908.

"Oldest Hoosier Water Mill Is Still in Operation" Indiana Farmer’s Guide, July 12, 1924.

Terre Haute Post, March 25, 1925.

Terre Haute Tribune, September 21, 1938.

Unknown newspaper, 1924

Vigo County Journal, April 22, 1925.

Volkers, Clyde E., unknown newspaper.